The Sociolinguistics of English Syllabic Consonants and the Fulfilment of Rules of Production

By Inmaculada de Jesús Arboleda Guirao.

Published by The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies

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The constant presence of English syllabic consonants in speech and the lack of agreement amongst phoneticians regarding their usage (Cohen 1957; Wells 1965; Gimson 1970; Álvarez 1980; Monroy 1980; Jones 1992; Roach 2000; Töft 2002) make them an eligible topic for further exploration. Unlike some phoneticians who have focused on the production of potential syllabic consonants at the word level, we will be concerned with the behaviour of such elements at discourse level. We will study samples of real language, so as to find out whether the production of syllabic vs. non-syllabic consonants complies consistently with Monroy’s rules (2008 - 2009). This phonetician assigns one pronunciation (either schwa or syllabic consonant) to each rule. We will be interested in knowing the listeners’ reactions to the presence of syllabic consonants or schwa, which has not been sufficiently addressed either (van Bergem 1995; Deterding 2006). The informants were 80 (40 males / 40 females) non-rhotic English newsreaders from the BBC Learning English website (2009). Three naïve female referees had to decide whether they perceived a syllabic consonant or a schwa plus liquid / nasal in specific words. After collecting their data and transcribing all the information, we analysed the results with the help of SPSS. The statistical procedure used was the contingency table analysis. The study reveals that the judges’ reactions to the presence / non-presence of syllabic consonants in the samples studied give support to most of Monroy’s rules. The only exception is rule 2, whose scope and characteristics are discussed in this study. Despite the solidity of the findings, it would be advisable to deal with a wider sample of informants and referees, as well as to explore whether other factors such as accent and speaking rate affect the production of syllabic consonants vs. schwa.

Keywords: English, Syllabic Consonants, Schwa, Discourse, Rules, BBC Speech, Production, Perceptual Study

The International Journal of Communication and Linguistic Studies, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp.95-108. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 454.543KB).

Inmaculada de Jesús Arboleda Guirao

Associate Professor, Lecturer, and Tutor, Department of English Studies, University of Murcia and National University of Distance Education, Murcia, Spain

Ms. Arboleda holds a BA in English studies and a MA in English language and linguistics, as well as a MA in legal translation English - Spanish. She obtained the First Rank Outstanding Student Achievement Award in English Studies at her university and at the Spanish National Level (2009). From 2009 until 2011, she held a PhD Research Scholarship granted by a Regional Foundation (Fundación Séneca). She has done research at the Universities of Alicante and Almería (Spain) as well as Leeds (England), the latter under the supervision of the phonetician Clive Upton. In 2011, she joined the Department of English Studies at the University of Murcia and UNED (National University of Distance Education) as a lecturer. She intends to submit her PhD thesis in 2012. She has participated in many congresses on linguistics and published papers in well-known journals. Her book, Systems for the Phonetic Transcription of English: Theory and Texts (co-authored with Dr. Monroy and edited by Peter Lang) has already been published. Prof. Monroy and Prof. Arboleda are editing a book entitled Readings in English Phonetics, which will bring together highly reputed phoneticians all over the world.